Boutique Owner Grows Small Business by Using Social Media

Carla Gizzi knows her business. She’s had a vintage inspired home and jewelry boutique in Red Bank, New Jersey for fifteen years. She says that business has slowed in the past few years, but with a loyal following it hasn’t disrupted her passion for buying merchandise and finding new ways to promote her shops. By using a combination of social media and cause marketing strategies Carla is bringing in new customers and growing her business.

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Filed under Facebook and Twitter, How to, Interview

Interview: Pia Wilson, Playwright and Small Business Owner

ClearSocialMedia: You have several businesses, can you tell us about them?
Pia Wilson: I never thought of my being a playwright as a business because of the artistic element.  But I can definitely see how it could be conceived that way because of all the relationship-building and the marketing element.  My other business is a language school I started in July 2010.  It’s a business in more of a classical sense — in that it’s an LLC — and it’s called Language à GoGo.
CSM: Where are they located or are they primarily online?
PW: My playwriting business goes wherever I go, though I do have a website: www.piawilson.com!  Language à GoGo is based in Montclair, NJ; though our classes are in Manhattan.  The website is www.languageagogo.com — and it’s a Tumblr site (to my advantage and disadvantage).
CSM: What is your primary marketing strategy?
PW: For playwriting, I don’t have a specific marketing strategy.  I try to get to know people in the industry.  I have the aforementioned website, and I tweet (@pwilson720).  My twitter account is reflective of me as a person and as a playwright.  Same with my Facebook page.
Language à GoGo is a little more strategic.  The company is going to do a sale with an email marketing company.   The twitter account (@languageagogo) has been growing slowly, and there’s no Facebook page yet.  From my perspective, it’s better to hear what the community is saying and build the community little by little rather than just follow everyone on the planet, just to get a big number.  We have had conversations with our friends on Twitter and learned from them. Hopefully, we’ve been sharing some worthwhile information too.  On Facebook, we’ve been waiting to launch the page until we have a larger student body community.  Ideally, I want students to communicate with each other and their teacher, using Facebook as a meeting point for conversation about language, swapping tips for learning and more.  We’re also waiting to have more visual content.  There’s nothing I hate more than a boring Facebook page!  I also use Gowalla for Language à GoGo, since we’re all about being on the move.
CSM: How does this strategy change between marketing yourself as a playwright and marketing a business?
PW: I think I may have combined the answer for this question with the answer for the question above.  But I’d like to add that marketing myself as a playwright is more about me being Pia.  I can bring my politics into it. I can talk about my life.  I can talk about what I’m working on.  However, with Language à GoGo, it’s not really me I’m presenting.  So, I keep my personal life out of it, unlike other impresarios like Richard Branson and P.T. Barnum.  Language à GoGo is about connecting people with a new language and culture.
CSM: What forms of social media do you find most helpful?  How does this differ between businesses?
PW: I find Twitter to be the most helpful in both businesses.  As a playwright, I find that Twitter helps me reach out to people from all over the world.  Facebook is more limited to my immediate circle and is thus New York-centric.  For Language à GoGo, there’s nothing to compare Twitter to on the social media front.  Lots of information comes through Twitter.  Great conversations.  Gowalla will be more fun as we grow.
CSM: What kind of impact does social media have on both businesses?  How do you measure the impact?
PW: Twitter has brought a few people to the website for Language à GoGo as well as my personal/playwright website.  However, as a playwright, Twitter has had a different impact, in that I’ve met theater people in person that I may have never known, and some theaters in other parts of the country have requested to read my work, which is fantastic.  Facebook is more about socializing with people I already know to some degree.  It’s great for mentally casting a role too!
CSM: How do you think social media is changing the way people can brand themselves?  How new business start up?
PW: I think social media gives people a way to show their authentic personality.  It’s also a great way to position yourself as a great communicator and sharer of ideas.  For a new business start-up, it’s a great way to make inroads into an established community.  It’s also a way to gauge the market’s receptivity to a start-up’s positioning.  Of course, it’s a wonderful way to keep in contact with clients and potential clients.
CSM: What social media do you find invaluable?  What have you tried and found to be a waste of time?
PW: I really enjoy Twitter, but it can be very time-consuming.  If anything, I would recommend relaxing about Twitter and easing it into your schedule. It’s more important to get the big items off your plate Twitter should be business and pleasure.
Because I have been careful with my time using social media, I haven’t encountered any social media that is a waste of time. I think it’s important to think about what your business is and then engage in social media strategically — not just following every trend.
CSM: I notice you have an iPad.  Does it aid you in accessing social media or marketing your businesses?
PW: Yes! The iPad is a great tool for using social media. I have both the Twitter app as well as Twittelator and Hootsuite. I use Friendly for Facebook.  In person-to-person marketing, I have created a slideshow for Language à GoGo that demonstrates how we operate.
With playwriting, I can fill out grant or festival applications using PDF Expert or iAnnotate PDF.
CSM: What advice would you offer to people who are looking to brand themselves using social media?
PW: Think strategically and don’t exhaust yourself, if you don’t have the people power to pull off a hectic social media schedule.
CSM: What advice would you offer to people looking to create buzz around a new business using social media?
PW: Engage people. Ask interesting questions. Share your insights frequently.

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Making Google Work for You: Adwords

Google has lots of great tools, when, if used properly can be a real asset to businesses and non-profits with a small advertising budget.  Let’s take some time to focus on Google Adwords.  Adwords are a great way to bring in business because it allows for highly targeted ad placement.  However, it costs time and money so if you’re planning to set up an account for your business its important to make sure you use the program to its fullest extent.

Adwords, in short, is Google’s pay per click advertising service, this means businesses and other advertisers are only charged when their ad is clicked on.  Advertisers bid for key words or phrases that are relevant to their business (a personal trainer might bid on the word “fitness” or the phrase “work out session”), the cost they end up paying for each word or phrase is determined by the bids of other advertisers.  If an advertiser bids high enough, their ad will appear on Google’s search page every time somebody searches for one of the words or phrases they’ve bid on, when somebody clicks on the ad the advertiser is charged. The ads are minimally invasive and show up on the right hand side of the search page.  Even if you’ve never clicked on one before you have undoubtedly noticed them. 

What’s great about Adwords is not only the fact that you can target customers searching for topics relevant to your business, but you can further target the ads based on things like location of the person searching and the time they are searching.  If you want people to see your ad during store hours you can make sure it only appears between 9 and 5.  If you only want people with in a ten mile radius of your business, you can specify that too.  However using Google Adwords in a way that benefits your business requires knowledge of how to use the system.  For small businesses with a limited budget it’s important that you pay close attention to targeting your ad, wording your ads so they are most effective, and bidding on affordable words that will secure relevant placement.

Google offers the best tutorials on how to use their services. By going to the Adwords home page you can find fantastic tutorials including videos on how to use the service. Google also offers seminars for success that include Adwords 101.  If they offer seminars in your area—sign up!  I attended one on Google Analytics and it was a great experience.

In the past I used a website called Searchenginewatch.com.  They have good write- ups on how to use Adwords, however they were written in 2008 and there have been significant changes to the service since then.  They’re still useful, but I’d recommend what Google has to offer over these how-to’s.

Here are some interesting blogs/articles about the topic:

http://www.thesaleslion.com/google-adwords-your-business-best-friend-or-worst-enemy/

http://ezinearticles.com/?Pay-Per-Click-Advertising—Is-It-Right-For-My-Business?&id=758948

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5852066/google_tools_every_small_business_should.html

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Hiring Somebody to Help with Social Media: What You Need to Know

An important part of starting up a business is figuring out where it’s worth spending money to save time.  Many people decide that when it comes to social media, time is money and they would rather bring in someone to do the work.  This decision is not a bad one, but it can’t be emphasized enough that one must still understand the ins-and- outs of the social media being used to promote their business.  From strategy to execution, just because you’ve brought in an “expert” to do the work, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be knowledgeable about every part of the process.

I have watched several people I know and worked for hire a person to do web design, manage a blog, and post on twitter without having knowledge of what a position like that actually entails.  In my experience this leads to disaster.  Sometimes it’s the employer asking too much, but more often than not it’s the person they hire doing too little.  As a freelancer who has experience working on social media strategy for clients I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a job because the person prior to me didn’t do the work that was asked of them, leaving the business with a big mess to clean up.

For starters, I have to emphasize the importance of hiring the right person to create your website.  It’s the one area where skimping on payment up front will end up costing you money in the long run.  Unless you are already a skilled web designer, or have a best friend or spouse who is: DON’T TRUST FREE OR CHEAP LABOR WITH THIS TASK.  A website is the new storefront and you wouldn’t open your business in a dilapidated building, so you shouldn’t be inviting people to visit a poorly designed, poorly functioning website either.  If you can’t afford a website right away Tumblr has been getting a lot of press recently as a great blogging platform for small businesses because its easy to use.  Facebook can also serve as an interim landing point for people looking to find your business online (check out our Facebook 101 post).

One fantastic way to get some great labor when it comes to managing your social media is through hiring interns.  If you’re near places of higher education that offer a media studies program you can get an intern to come in a few days a week and tweet, Facebook and blog for you.  Students are going to be on top of what’s happening on the social media scene and because they’re there to earn credits they aren’t going to slack or up and leave you (at least hopefully not).  It’s a great opportunity to let a person take some initiative and improve your social media strategy as well as content. After all it’s what they’re studying in school.  However, make sure you have them show you what they’ve done (maybe daily or weekly).  I used to work with a woman who would get interns every semester, giving them social media responsibilities while she focused on more traditional marketing.  Unfortunately, she didn’t take the time to keep up with what they were doing and where/how they were promoting her program online.  When they left at the end of the end of every semester she would find herself back at square one and with a very scattered online presence.  Also, make sure your interns understand your business before you let them loose with social media and give them the content you’d like them to turn into posts on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you choose to hire a freelancer, think carefully about what you want them to do, because often you are paying them by the hour.  As a freelancer, I think my clients often get the most bang for their buck when they come to me knowing exactly what they want and then pay me to execute it.  Unlike with a media studies intern where you can give them the freedom to take initiative with your social media strategy, allowing a freelancer to do this could become quite costly.   I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard clients gripe about past freelancers who didn’t do what they wanted.  It seems to me that it’s because they end up getting charged for the freelancer doing a lot of thinking about social media strategy, but little on the execution side.

I think when making the decision about whether or not to pay for something, or do it yourself, it’s important to sit down and think through, “what do I have time to do?”  Often the answer is that you don’t have time to update your blog, or tweet every day, or engage with Facebook fans regularly.  But, you should make time to review diverse competitor’s media strategies, and develop the online presence you’d like your business to have, how you’d like to be represented, and lastly what kind of social media would work best for you.  Once you know those things, you will have a higher level of success when you bring someone in who can execute it all.

We would like to hear about your hiring experiences…What have you found to be effective and ineffective?

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Interview with a Real Estate Agent

This is an interview with Real Estate Agent Barry Kramer of Westchester Choice Realty in Scarsdale, NY.  We’d love reader feedback on what questions we should be asking in future interviews so please leave a comment, either with follow up questions for this interview or questions you’d like us to ask future subjects.

CSM: What kind of business do you own?

Answer: Residential Real Estate, homes, condos, co-op sales and rentals.  We are an independent brokerage with about 10 agents.

CSM: Where is your business located?

Answer: Scarsdale, NY in Westchester County

CSM: Where do you do most of your sales?

Answer: Locally, Eastchester, Scarsdale, Tuckahoe, Bronxville, Hartsdale and White Plains.  Our most significant market is along the Harlem Train Line.  We specialize on Garth Road, Scarsdale, NY.

CSM: What is your target demographic (age, location, social-economic status)?

Answer: Since we sell a lot of co-op apartments we target first time buyers.  We also target seniors that own homes and may be considering downsizing.

CSM: What is your primary marketing strategy (is it traditional, like print/TV or does is it mainly digital)

Answer: We do a lot of Internet marketing, and less print than we used to.  We have our own website, and are also on most major Real Estate search engines like Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com.  We also still do quite a bit of direct mail.

CSM: – if both, how does the approach to each differ?  How do the results differ?

Answer: With our Internet marketing we try to get new buyers, while our direct marketing is to secure listings in the area we specialize in.

CSM: What social media do you use (Facebook, twitter, etc., etc.)

Answer: We use Facebook, and have our own Facebook page.  We also started to use Twitter, but haven’t really used it very much.

CSM: How does marketing through social media impact your business (if it does not impact your business please explain why)?

Answer: Well, it seems like in Real Estate you’ve got to be in nearly everything.  Places like Facebook have begun to eliminate separate places on individual pages to list homes for sale.  They seem like they want mainly personal stuff, and if you’re a business they want you to have a business page. Consumers, and especially young buyers like the interaction through places like Facebook.

CSM: Please discuss the primary impact as well… is it sharing information, actual sales, building a fan base, etc.

Answer: Yes, all of the above.  Consumers want information and not just selling.  If you can provide information on your social media and other web tools you’ll be ahead of others.  Everyone wants to be liked.  I’m always weary about liking other Realtors.  They’ll just take that into a listing presentation and say look, even Barry Kramer likes me.  Building a base of clients is great, but you’ve got to stay in touch!

CSM: How is social media changing the sense of community around your business?

Answer: Yes it is.  Every Realtor has a Blog and communicates on Facebook etc.  You’ve got to be careful though not to exclude older buyers that might prefer an old fashioned phone call.  It’s a mix.  Real Estate has always been a people business, and media like Facebook is just one more way to communicate with buyers and sellers.

CSM: How would your marketing strategy be different if you didn’t have social media as a tool?

Answer: We never got rid of the other stuff. We’ve cut back on print media, and have not eliminated entirely. We still do direct mail. We’ve included social media into our strategy, but it’s not the only thing we do.

CSM: Is there any instance in today’s world where you would NOT recommend social media as part of a business strategy?

Answer: When we try to reach older buyers it’s not a really good strategy.  Also, homes need to be seen, felt and explored.  Sure we can do a virtual tour, but you just can’t smell fresh baked cookies in a beautiful kitchen on Facebook, at least not yet anyway.

CSM: What advice do you have to offer other people entering your industry as they contemplate where to put their efforts online?

Answer: Be online, but there’s more to real estate than social media, having a good website, and blogging.  Eventually you’ll have to meet a buyer or seller and through ups and downs negotiate a deal.  Social media may be a start, and may even be the way you keep in touch after the deal is over.  Studies have shown that buyers and sellers work with people they like.  Even if you’re the best social media expert if they don’t like you they won’t do business with you.  Embrace social media, but don’t forget the basics.

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Webinars: a great resource for small businesses and non-profits

Have you ever worked for a non-profit or a small business? If you have you know the work-load always outweighs the resources available. For several years I worked in the communications department of a non-profit.  While working there the communications department began making the switch to digital it was up to me to become educated on best practices.  How did I go about doing this?

Working for a non-profit or small business costs are always top of mind. I found that Webinars is one of the best resources out there.  Not only are many of webinars free, but they also allowed me to communicate with non-profits across the United States.  This was helpful since we were all in different places but we were all trying to figure out how to best raise funds through Facebook, tweet effectively, improve our newsletters, and create Webpages that encouraged supporters to take action.

Below are a list of sites that host webinars that are useful to any business, non-profits, and anyone looking to get involved or learn more about social media.  I personally prefer the interactive ones, because they have a better flow to them and you can communicate while it’s taking place. However, even the webinars that don’t allow for real time participation will ask everyone who is registered to submit questions prior to starting so that the speaker(s) can address the needs of whoever is attending the webinar.

For PR, Cision offers great webinars (and leaves them posted on the site if you’ve missed them).

Mediabistro is a favorite as well.  You do have to pay to watch most of them, but a few are free.  A lot of it is also geared towards journalists and copywriters but they have some great ones, like “Controlling Your Online Presence”.  They also get great speakers.

Hubspot is another good one.  Again great webinars on marketing for your business.  And again, some are free and some are not.

 

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Social Media Strategy for the Cinnamon Snail

Last week I spoke with Adam Sobel about how he uses social media for his small business.  Initially, I found the Cinnamon Snail through an article in my local paper, but since then I started following him on Facebook. It was cold day when we spoke, but he had a long-lineup of loyal customers who wanted to have some great vegan food served up right out of a food truck. How’d they find him? Through his Facebook and twitter updates.

There was a lot of ooohing and ahhing as some people ate right there on the spot. I waited to get home and have the *Special* lemongrass 5 spice seitan, with arugula, red curried cashews, wasabi mayonnaise, and Szechuan chili sauce on a grilled baguette. My husband couldn’t believe what we were eating wasn’t meat. Kudos to Adam! Delicious. Delicious. Delicious!

Watch how this entrepreneur merges culinary inventiveness with sound marketing practices. He is the one to watch because he’s only been in business since February this year and converted another new customer—Me!

If you didn’t see my earlier post check it out now.

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Filed under Facebook and Twitter, Interview